How to Avoid Time-Wasting Meetings: 8 Key Strategies for Productivity

How to Avoid Time-Wasting Meetings: 8 Key Strategies for Productivity

Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “We meet because the need for some specific work to be accomplished is apparent to more than one person, and because the work to be accomplished is of such a nature that it requires the exchange of information and ideas among those who participate in the meeting.”

A well-run meeting can generate valuable intellectual capital for a company. However, an obvious truth is that many companies hold meetings that are both lengthy and inefficient. These meetings often go off-topic, fail to reach conclusions, or result in discussions that lack value, ultimately leading to poor execution.

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Many companies have a habit of conducting meetings for the sake of having meetings. Tedious routine meetings, meaningless social gatherings, and sudden brainstorming sessions pop up throughout the day, consuming most of employees’ time. As a result, employees find themselves busy with meetings during the day and only have time for actual work in the evenings. This cycle leads to decreased operational efficiency.

So, how can we streamline meeting time and processes while improving meeting quality? In practice, many CEOs are experts in simplifying and optimizing meetings, and they have accumulated a wealth of experience. We have compiled ten meeting strategies in the hope that they will be beneficial to you. Enjoy the following:

01- Reduce Meeting Time

To improve meeting quality as a regular activity in a company, it’s crucial to start by reducing meeting time.

  1. Elon Musk is a staunch supporter of reducing meeting time. He believes that excessive meetings are a common problem in many large companies and the trend is worsening. Unless it can be confirmed that they will bring value to all participants, large meetings should not be organized. Even then, speakers should keep their remarks concise.
  2. Steve Jobs advocated controlling the size of meetings to reduce their duration. He recommended allowing only essential participants to attend meetings and discouraged unnecessary attendees, regardless of their status. Too many people and voices can lead to counterproductive outcomes.
  3. This principle aligns with the views of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former Senior Vice President of Product Jonathan Rosenberg. They believed that every meeting should have a clear purpose, and if that purpose is not well-defined or the meeting cannot achieve its purpose, it should be canceled. Meetings should start and end on time, and the discussion results should be summarized at the end.
  4. LinkedIn adopted a practice of different meeting frequencies and durations for different levels of leadership. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s executive team met once a week for three hours and once every six weeks for a full-day meeting. Each level of meetings had different goals and scopes to guide the company at both micro and macro levels.
  5. Pivotal, located in San Francisco, takes the most incredible approach. Their employees spend a total of 15 minutes in meetings per day, rarely exceeding 20 minutes. Afterward, they focus on their individual work. High-level executives may have slightly more meetings, but the company’s overall culture discourages excessive meetings. Pivotal CEO Rob Mee believes these rules contribute to the “sustainable growth of the software industry.”

02- Eliminate Presentations

Many companies waste time during meetings by doing too much “busywork,” extending tasks that could be completed in a few minutes into hours or even several hours. This includes reviewing known information and presenting known results. This is not only a waste of time but also consumes human resources.

  1. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos advocates for a “no-PPT” approach at Amazon. Instead, each person writes a six-page memo as a memorandum, and before every meeting, participants read it silently. These memos are typically written at least a week in advance to ensure quality, thus enhancing efficiency during the meeting.
  2. Taking inspiration from Bezos’s viewpoint, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner eliminated presentations. Typically, materials that were supposed to be presented at a meeting were distributed to participants at least 24 hours in advance. During the meeting, participants were given 5 to 10 minutes to review the relevant materials. This allowed them to focus on valuable discussions, delve deeper into compelling data and ideas, and engage in meaningful debates.
  3. Elon Musk has very strict requirements for advance preparation. An anonymous employee who worked under Musk shared on the Q&A website Quora, “When we have meetings with Elon, we are always well-prepared. If you are not prepared and he asks you a question and you can’t answer it, then you might as well pray you’re lucky enough not to be fired.”

03-Setting Meeting Objectives

Every meeting has its objectives and direction. Setting objectives not only provides a discussion direction and prevents deviations but also ensures that everyone feels a sense of accomplishment and pride after achieving those objectives. It fosters team belonging through collective goal achievement.

  1. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former Senior Vice President of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg believe that overly long meetings often lack clearly defined objectives and structure. Decision-makers should convene meetings, ensure that the meeting’s content is correct, set objectives, determine who will participate, and provide the meeting agenda to participants at least 24 hours in advance.
  2. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner suggests that everyone should ask themselves a simple question at the start of a meeting: “What is the objective of this meeting?” This question is valuable as it ensures that all participants share the same goal, keeping the focus on the meeting’s main topic rather than getting lost in endless off-topic discussions.
  3. Mark Zuckerberg not only emphasizes the importance of asking about the meeting’s objective but also suggests that objectives should be defined differently based on the type of meeting. He categorizes meetings into two main types: decision-making meetings and discussion meetings. The former must result in a clear decision, such as project review meetings or budget approval meetings, while the latter may involve gathering everyone to discuss issues and share information, like morning meetings, brainstorming sessions, or project update meetings. Once the meeting’s objective is confirmed, it indirectly determines the meeting’s type, location, and duration.

04-Empowering Employees to Speak Up

An efficient meeting is never a one-person show. It thrives on diverse opinions and contributions to reach the best solutions. Creating a space for employees to openly express their thoughts is essential for generating creative viewpoints and ideas.

  1. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, emphasizes that during brainstorming and problem-solving sessions, it’s important for everyone to understand that each person has different opinions. Meetings should provide an environment where everyone feels free to express themselves without fear of embarrassment or criticism.
  2. Jeff Bezos strongly opposes quick consensus because he believes it’s too easy and insincere. He encourages employees to engage in debates before making decisions. However, this doesn’t mean prolonging meetings unnecessarily for the sake of argument. Instead, he promotes active participation in discussions, even encouraging two individuals to deliberately take opposing viewpoints to “argue” for a deeper understanding of the issue.

You can easily identify your teammate’s opinion in Huddles within onesight, if they support or not.

05-Identify a “Driver”

Many people dislike lengthy meetings, and one significant reason for this is the time wasted on ineffective discussions. Members often diverge from the main topic, leading to a decrease in efficiency. In such cases, a “driver” is needed to continually supervise the meeting’s main course and enhance the quality of discussions.

  1. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, believes that every meeting needs a “driver.” If there are multiple drivers, it becomes challenging to keep the meeting on track. The role of the “driver” is crucial, ensuring that discussions stay on topic, no one dominates the conversation, and any tangential discussions are temporarily set aside during the meeting.
  2. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, and Jonathan Rosenberg, former Senior Vice President of Products at Google, suggest that when two groups of equal rank meet, the results are often compromised rather than the best difficult decisions. They recommend designating a “decision-maker” explicitly so that all attendees know who has the ultimate authority to make decisions.

06-Spend Time Defining Semantics

Sometimes, meeting participants come from different departments, and if there’s a lack of understanding about each other’s jargon or terminology, it can waste time trying to grasp relevant information and lead to misunderstandings. This not only wastes your time but can also create a negative impression, especially in high-level meetings. Therefore, it’s important to have an in-depth understanding of key terms, phrases, and concepts related to the meeting topic before the meeting.

  1. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, emphasizes the importance of semantic alignment before meetings. He says, “It’s astonishing to me how many meetings go ‘off the rails’ due to differences in semantics. Imagine attending the United Nations without real-time translation headphones, and you can appreciate the importance of this. Language has its power, so it’s necessary to invest some time upfront to ensure everyone has a common understanding of certain key words, phrases, and concepts.”
  2. Elon Musk also places great importance on semantic alignment before meetings. He advocates for minimizing the use of abbreviations or meaningless terms to describe objects, software, or processes at Tesla. Generally, anything that needs explaining can hinder communication. “We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary to work here,” he says.

07-Assign Someone to Take Meeting Notes

Many companies make an effort to record and preserve the content of meetings in various forms. However, often the role of note-taking is assigned haphazardly, leading to incomplete or disorganized records. Note-taking requires a certain method and experience, and the right person needs to be assigned for the task.

LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, says, “This doesn’t mean we need someone like a courtroom stenographer to take notes, writing down every single word. Instead, we need someone who is familiar with the meeting’s objectives and has a clear understanding of the context. Only such a person can capture the most important points.”

This not only helps avoid the classic “Rashomon effect” — where multiple people remember an event in multiple ways — but also creates a record for reference. Such notes can be invaluable for investors who were unable to attend the meeting.

Within huddles, you can assign specific roles, including a designated note-taker. This ensures that someone is responsible for capturing the meeting’s content, allowing others to focus on the discussion without worrying about taking notes.

Meeting notes can be shared instantly with all huddles participants. This eliminates the need to distribute notes separately via email or other channels, ensuring that everyone has access to the same information.

08- Summarize the tasks and responsibilities to be fulfilled

Effective meetings, like well-organized companies, require clear delineation of responsibilities. This ensures that employees can perform their tasks competently. In the context of meetings, it is essential to clarify the responsible parties for each project or task beforehand so that relevant questions can be addressed during the discussion. Once the meeting has established its goals, the next step often involves task allocation, which also requires clear assignment of responsibilities to ensure the quality of follow-up actions.

  1. Steve Jobs was known to exclude people from meetings if he deemed them unnecessary. Apple always creates an action list for each meeting, with the name of the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) listed next to each action item. In Apple, it’s common to hear someone asking, “Who’s the DRI for that project?”
  2. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, emphasizes the importance of follow-up after meetings. He believes that it’s crucial not to conclude a meeting without summarizing key outcomes, action items, and the responsible parties. Typically, if a meeting has run long, and people are rushing to their next commitments, this crucial step can be easily forgotten. However, for the meeting, it’s often the most important. Ensuring that participants remain focused on discussing next steps and reaching a consensus is vital before the meeting concludes.
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